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Patriots training camp notebook: Cam Newton shows the starting quarterback gig is his to lose

Related: Patriots training camp notebook: Mac Jones wins the day

New England Patriots Training Camp Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

It was finally time for some real football as after several spring sessions and five training camp practices the New England Patriots finally put on full pads. The intensity and physicality was definitely ramped up a notch as the Patriots are just nine days out before their first preseason game of the summer versus the Washington Football Team.

Clete Blakeman and his crew of officials were present at practice to referee the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods of the session. The Patriots also mixed in some 1-on-1 drills with Newton as the primary passer. Both N’Keal Harry and Nelson Agholor shined; the two wide receivers both made impressive catches down the field with tough coverage.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, however. Welcome to today’s Patriots Training Camp Notebook.

Attendance

Absentees: CB Stephon Gilmore (PUP), DT Bryon Cowart (PUP), QB Jarrett Stidham (PUP), LB Chase Winovich (PUP), TE Dalton Keene (PUP), TE Devin Asiasi (Covid-19), LB Cameron McGrone (NFI), S Joshuah Bledsoe (NFI), OL Ted Karras (injured), Henry Anderson (injured)

Returnees: N/A

Injuries

LB Raekwon McMillan: The first-year Patriot was rolled up on during punt team work. He limped off to the medical tent before leaving practice with the trainers. It looked to be an ankle injury for one of the most active players of camp so far.

DT Christian Barmore: The second-round defensive tackle was in the midst of his best practice as a pro before hurting what looked like his foot. He got checked out by the trainers and did not return to the action.

Takeaways

Quarterbacks: It wasn't the sharpest practice for either quarterback but Cam Newton certainly won the day completing 11 of his 18 passes in both 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work. He looked more confident as a thrower and even displayed some down-field touch when he hit Nelson Agholor for a 50-yard TD on a deep crosser with tight coverage from Kyle Dugger. Newton looked poised and accurate all day after starting out 0 for 2 on the day.

Mac Jones, meanwhile, struggled in his first padded practice. Coming off his best day in camp, he finished 9-for-14 but went just 2-for-6 with an interception in 11-on-11 work. Jones should have had another interception, too, after Anfernee Jennings dropped an easy pick over the middle. Jones struggled to find rhythm today as he was a bit slower than we’ve seen with his reads and the ball was not going where it should be.

Tuesday’s practice was a true taste of what life would be like in the NFL for Jones, and, as expected, the rookie did show some ups and downs. If this truly is a quarterback competition, it has been clear after the first full week that this is Cam Newton’s job with very little doubt.

N’Keal Harry improving: For the second time in a week, N’Keal Harry looked as if he was the best receiver on the field. It should be noted that due to his big frame and physicality, when the pads come on, he should be dominating defensive backs down the field. On Tuesday, he did.

In 1-on-1s early on in practice, Harry won all three of his routes versus Joejuan Williams, Michael Jackson and Jonathan Jones. On two of those, he won go routes down the left and right sidelines and made two acrobatic, athletic catches to his back shoulder while swarmed by both Williams and Jones. It is early and Harry’s future remains uncertain, but he has looked much better to start his 2021 campaign than in years past.

Christian Barmore’s big day: Before leaving practice with what appeared to be a foot injury, Barmore was in the midst of his best practice as a pro. Obviously, once the pads come on it is easier to evaluate defensive and offensive line play and it was clear the second-rounder was the best of the bunch.

Barmore went 5-for-5 in 1-on-1 matchups and completely dominated the guards that he was lined up across. His quickness off the ball and a wide variety of pass rush moves were on display and it will be hard to keep the rookie off the field this season if he continues to show he can make an impact for the Patriots’ defensive front.

Ja’Whaun Bentley stands out in coverage: Bentley took a lot of heat last season for being one of the more inconsistent performers of the 2020 Patriots defense. We knew he could play physical and be a threat in the run game but he struggled in coverage. However, after the last two days of camp, Bentley has been one of the better linebackers on the field.

In back-to-back days playing t the heart of the Patriots defense as the mike linebacker, Bentley has picked off both Cam Newton and Mac Jones. Yesterday, he went full extension to intercept Newton over the middle; today, he tricked the rookie Jones into thinking he was blitzing before dropping back into coverage and picking off a pass intended for Kendrick Bourne.

In a crowded linebacker room, Bentley looks as if he’s sharper and ready to compete for snaps as a package linebacker in the middle of the defense.

Matthew Judon is worth the money: The Patriots signed Judon to a massive four-year contract in free agency, and he was all over the field for the Patriots during their first padded practice. He registered three run stuffs and contributed pressure all morning long.

The recently signed edge will be one of the Patriots’ more versatile and dynamic playmakers in a defense desperate for pressure and someone who can contribute in the run game off the edge. Judon does all those things, and on Tuesday it showed.